With an anarchic international system—meaning an absence of a global authority presiding over the affairs of the hegemonic regimes—resolutions to “stag hunts” and curbing existential violence is complicated and fragile (Jervis, 1978, pp. 167). Therefore, survival takes precedence. This instinctual and integral sense of self-preservation stems not from paranoia but a healthy fear and awareness. And since all countries are inherently dangerous, it is incumbent upon the present systems and those who preside over them, to form a cohesive pact, forming alliances, establishing institutions to propose rules and regulations in an effort to self-placate, self-constrain. In an effort to further international cohesion, various regimes promulgate non-excludable, non-rival services in the form of global public goods such as “the prevention of nuclear proliferation, the suppression of killer pandemics, climate change mitigation, and fundamental scientific knowledge” (Barrett, 2007, pp. 1).
Due to the vast disparity of wealth across the global schema, upon investment, some nation-states—these hegemonic regimes—will, in turn, provide the supply for the international demand, thus creating a vacuum for free riders. Even with the calculated foreknowledge of free riding, the possibility of a critical contributor to the deal detracting must always be expected, thus arises the information enforcement dilemma. Barrett writes, “It is usually the enforcement of the decision (or the credible threat to enforce it), rather than the decision itself, that supplies the global public good” (2007, pp. 12).
Without an authoritative polity governing global affairs, rule/regulation enforcement becomes complicated. Coalitions, or institutions, such as the United Nations (UN) congregate to define barriers and, if necessary, enact sanctions. As for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (i.e. North Korea, DPRK), an eminent threat of violating sanctions and launching war with Western powers remains uncertain. This calculated uncertainty balances the “hubris” of the United States’ presence in the Pacific. Nevertheless, North Korea’s present pacts with US allies, Russia and China, pose a seemingly inescapable reality, thwarting any opportunities to disarm the nuclear bully (Al Jazeera, 2017).
There are a myriad of options in the North Korea security dilemma haunting the Oval Office. For decades, the United States has approached the negotiation table cannily. However, as time has progressed, Presidents have taken a more reticent, unpredictable approach, abandoning negotiation altogether. While President Obama pursued peace via “strategic patience” (Bowden, 2017), Trump, like Nixon, adopts a “madman theory,” which “leaves…adversaries with the impression that he possese[s] an unstable, dangerous state of mind” (Osnos, 2017). Osnos writes,
“In 2009, when [former President] Clinton visited Kim [Jong Il] to secure the release of two imprisoned journalists, Kim lamented that, once [President] Bush came in, ‘we found ourselves missing the earlier, better relationship with the previous Administration’…Kim added, ‘The United States would have had a new friend in Northeast Asia in a complex world’” (2017).
These tactics, however, produce an unwittingly fragile misperception of defensive policy. This strong-arm politicking quagmire, while understandably rational, can exacerbate, rather than mollify, tense situations.
Recently, as of September 2017, the US has requested the UN Security Council to impose additional sanctions on DPRK (Al Jazeera, 2017; Osnos, 2017). These sanctions further widen the gap of potential coexistence in the Pacific arena. Despite the barrage of sanctions against DPRK, strangely, their GDP “grew an estimated 3.9 per cent in 2016,” surpassing their southern neighbor (Osnos, 2017). This is due to the prolificacy of illicit networking and black market subversion. Dear Leader Kim Jong Un permits these capitalist endeavors to promote his self-aggrandizement as a beneficent, benevolent father; however, this is not without his personal sanctions against foreign media, which he calls “poisonous weeds” (2017). Therefore, in order to understand this bellicose, nuclear-infatuated regime, it is imperative to understand the rationale and history of the “most hermetic power on the globe” (2017).
When asked of the devastating impacts nuclear war would have on the Korean Peninsula, Pak Song Il of the Foreign Ministry’s Institute for American Studies retorted,
“‘We’ve been through it twice before. The Korean War and the Arduous March’—the official euphemism for the famine of the mid-nineties. ‘We can do it a third time…As long as the United States is destroyed, then we are all starting from the same line’” (2017).
These people are cognizant of an imminent destruction from the Western imperialists, accepting their fate. Pak reiterates later on in the passage, “‘We will die in order to protect that dignity and sovereignty’” (2017). Furthermore, DPRK revels in the fetishization of the Korean War, touting the banner of victory over the American invaders, deifying and mythologizing the leadership of Dear Leader Kim Il Sung, longing for retaliation. So, what are our options in the event the Dear Leader launches a preemptive strike against South Korea, Japan, or the US?
In his candid article “How to Deal with North Korea,” Mark Bowden (2017) outlines the existing strategies for mitigating impending nuclear disaster. He proposes four solutions: 1) prevention, 2) turning the screws, 3) decapitation, and 4) acceptance. The first—a decisive strike against the regime, eliminating all arsenals and munitions—is the most compelling, but the most unrealistic. The second posits a series of minor attacks—just enough to impact the economy and defense apparatus, but not enough to incite a full-scale war—against the regime to gradually wear down morale. The third recommends assassination of the Dear Leader and/or his generals and advisors creating a vacuum for a coup to supplant the regime with a democratic system. And the last, which is the “hardest pill to swallow,” recognizes the inevitable continuation of the Kim dynasty, having nuclear weapons yet delaying war (2017).
DPRK currently has the capability of utterly destroying its southern neighbor and Japan with nuclear weaponry. Osnos writes, “In the six years since Kim Jong Un assumed power, at the age of twenty-seven, he has tested eighty-four missiles—more than double the number that has father and grandfather tested” (2017). However, Bowden remarks,
“[A]s the US continued its covert cyber program last year, 88 percent of North Korea’s flight tests of its intermediate-range Musudan missiles ended in failure…The normal failure rate for developmental missile tests…is about 5 to 10 percent” (2017).
Yet in episode #88 of Sam Harris’s podcast “Waking Up,” Mark Bowden, in their discussion of the regime’s defensive/offensive capabilities, suggests these failures were quite possibly strategically planned to appear as if they failed but in reality succeeded their initial calculations and met set standards. Furthermore, currently,
“They are believed to have tunnels stretching under the DMZ and into South Korea. Special forces could be inserted almost anywhere in South Korea by tunnel, aircraft, boat, or the…navy’s fleet of miniature submarines” (2017).
Hypothetically, Kim Jong Un could, if he wanted, invade and occupy South Korea and/or Japan via blitzkrieg, thus stymying American retaliation by holding allies hostage. Nevertheless, the US, Russia, and China act as a possible—that’s a key word—buffer to Kim Jong Un’s reunification of the Korean Peninsula under the banner of Communism (Al Jazeera, 2017).
Personally, the optimal response to the egregious actions and efforts of the regime against its own people and, quite possibly, against South Korea, Japan, and/or the United States, would be infiltration: a coordinated effort by the CIA and South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, with the cooperation of the military generals, to stage a coup. This could be executed by hacking and revealing heretical/scandalous material to the public, thus exposing the dictator to his people. In turn, the people could usurp the throne of the deified man-child and restore a democratic, unified Korea. But understanding the unrealistic intricacies of this concerted effort, it is more conducive to strike with direct and authoritative force if the Dear Leader does in fact pose an imminent existential threat to our allies in the Pacific or the homeland itself. However, President Obama’s “strategic patience” seems more befitting. By waiting, 1) North Korea develops an ICBM and uses it, ensuring their imminent demise, 2) the international community will coalesce and impose additional sanctions, suffocating the regime into submission, 3) South Korea and/or Japan deter North Korea by developing nuclear weapons, or 4) the world will arrive at a stalemate—no winners or losers: brinkmanship.
This last strategic policy—brinkmanship—is risky albeit feasible. In his The Strategy of Conflict, Thomas C. Schelling postulates two superpowers—at the time, the US and USSR—must convince each other of slight irrationality to ensure credibility (Schelling, 1981). In other words, as Bowden (2017) puts it, “Would the US sacrifice Los Angeles to save Seoul?” For example, the US placed troops in Berlin—and other various disclosed and undisclosed locations dispersed throughout Europe—after a post-World-War-Two schism tore Germany into two separate entities: one under American control (West), and the other under Soviet control (East). Therefore, if the Soviets decided to overtake Berlin or launch a nuclear strike against Europe, the US would suffer casualties, thus prompting retaliation and mutually assured destruction (MAD). This, however, inadvertently led to the proliferation of nuclear weapons in continental Europe due to the primal instinct of self-preservation and assumptive distrust.
This distrust resonates with Kim Jong Un as he reflects upon the deposition of Muammar Qaddafi. Bowden writes,
“In 2003, when Qaddafi agreed to surrender his nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, Bush promised others who might do the same that they would have an ‘open path to better relations with the United States.’ Eight years later, the U.S. and NATO helped to overthrow Qaddafi, who was captured, humiliated, and killed by rebels” (2017).
Therefore, there is sufficient reason to believe the Dear Leader would not comply with any of the demands from the US or even Russia and China. For example, in 1994, President Bill Clinton negotiated an unprecedented nuclear disarmament deal with DPRK. The US, however, failed to deliver its promises in a timely manner, thus compounding Kim Jong Il’s resentment against the imperialist invaders. In 2002, after US intelligence agencies discovered the regime continued to produce enriched uranium, the Agreed Framework, as it was called, dissolved into history as a bipartisan failure (Ryan, 2017; Kessler, 2017).
Overall, with an anarchic international system and informal de facto rules, ensuring global cohesion is a seemingly unmatchable feat. However, by establishing institutions, coalitions, and alliances, these informal procedures become more enforceable. Acting as a deterrent, hegemonic regimes such as the United States, China, and Russia intermediate between common and even nefarious sovereignties. To placate and constrain animosity among nation-states, these hegemonic regimes propagate services for global public goods. However, tensions arise when the international community promulgates sanctions against a commercial ally. Moreover, American foreign policy has changed over the years due to detrimental strong-arming and “madman” politics. Though seemingly reasonable, it leaves strategic policies open to misconstrual. Therefore, one must 1) understand the rationale and history of DPRK and 2) evaluate all options with indiscriminate attention. Unfortunately, regardless, in every scenario, exponential loss of life is inevitable, except for the acceptance and cooperation remedy, which is highly unlikely due to DPRK’s intransigence.